Sarah Mawerere | March 16, 2020
In Mubende district, Uganda, Joseph Mugerwa has fallen in love with his coffee plants. He dedicates a lot of time to pruning branches that are dead, infected, or touching the ground. By removing unproductive branches and stems, pruning promotes growth of new ones, increases yield, and reduces the spread of disease. Mr. Mugerwa used to harvest less than a kilogram of coffee from each coffee plant. Now he harvests twice a year and has doubled his yield.
Joseph Mugerwa walks from one coffee tree to another, a red pruning tool called a secateur in his right hand. Mr. Mugerwa is pruning his coffee plants in order to rejuvenate old trees. By removing unproductive branches and stems, pruning promotes growth of new ones and increases yield.
Mr. Mugerwa has a three-acre coffee farm in Lwensambya-Bageeza subcounty, in Uganda’s Mubende district. He is the chairperson of Gayaza Mubende Agali Awamu Coffee Farmers Society, and he encourages his fellow farmers to prune their coffee trees.
He explains: “You have to fall in love with your coffee by dedicating time to tend to it. Otherwise, nothing much will be harvested. That’s why I now prune my coffee, and you can see how my plantation looks.”
Mr. Mugerwa’s coffee plants now bear big, healthy cherries. Whereas the plants used to look bushy, now they have only two or three branches and no shoots on the trunk. This allows light to penetrate to the interior of the plants, which reduces the spread of disease.
Pruning is part of a package of recommended practices that includes stumping, de-suckering, and removing the young shoots that grow on the stems of the coffee tree.
Mr. Mugerwa and many other coffee farmers in Mubende district were trained on smart coffee farming practices through interactive radio programs on Radio Simba. The programs were part of a project implemented by Farm Radio International and a foundation called Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung, or HRNS, with funding from the German agency GIZ.
David Senyonjo is the field operations manager for HRNS in Mubende. He says the organization trains farmers through exchange visits, observations, and practical lessons on their coffee farms, as well as through the radio programs. Stephen Ecaat is Farm Radio International’s Country Representative for Farm Radio International in Uganda. He adds that the radio programs helped to educate farmers on financial literacy and best practices for coffee production within and even beyond the project area.
Mr. Senyonjo recommends that farmers prune dead, pest- and disease-infected, weak, and unproductive shoots, suckers, and branches. They should also cut off branches that touch the ground. Even if the branch has coffee cherries, it should be cut off since it may infect other coffee trees.
Cherry production naturally decreases with the age of the coffee tree, as well as pressure from diseases and pests. But pruning can help boost productivity and control pests and diseases. Mr. Senyonjo says: “When you cut off the excess shoots, branches, and suckers, it will help to guide nutrient flow directly to fruit-bearing branches. The coffee plants will gain nutrients and increase production.”
Fungal diseases are common in coffee trees with too many branches. Excess branches create a humid environment within the coffee tree that is ideal for fungal development. Thus, regular pruning helps to manage fungal disease.
John Senyonga is a coffee farmer from Kayunga village in Mubende district. He says, “We were not used to pruning coffee and we were getting low yields. I could get less than a kilogram per plant. But with pruning, I get about seven kilograms from each tree.”
Mr. Mugerwa also used to harvest less than a kilogram of coffee from a single plant. But pruning, along with other good practices such as weeding and applying fertilizer, has enabled him to double his yield to two kilograms per plant. Along with other coffee farmers in the area, he used to harvest in October and November only. He is now able to harvest twice a year: from December to February and from April to June.
Financed by the GIZ, commissioned by the government of the Federal Republic of Germany.